What countries have the highest national debt vs. GDP in the world? And in Latin America?

Nov 28, 2023 | 0 comments

By Maite Knorr-Evans

Central banks worldwide are increasing interest rates, putting pressure on countries with high public debt. Emerging markets and developing economies face the most significant threat in the high-rate environment. Many of these countries struggle with limited investments and spend a significant portion of their national budget on repaying debt. This problem has been exacerbated by the fact that numerous countries have taken on record high levels of debt in the past decade, which threatens the financial stability of their economies.

Japan has the highest national debt in the world mostly due to due the demands of a rapidly aging population.

According to the World Bank’s latest Global Economic Prospects report, low-income countries are spending approximately 3 percent of their GDP on programs that support their most economically vulnerable citizens, while the interest on public debt can amount to as much as 20 percent of public revenue in some of these countries. As economies battered by the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic regain their footing, higher interest rates, coupled with persistently high inflation, are “leaving [governments] with little fiscal space to cope with the next shock or make the investments necessary to revive growth.”

Countries with the highest debt-to-GDP ratios
There are a few ways that debt can be measured, but this analysis focuses on debt as a portion of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP). GDP is the total value of all final sales in an economy. This is the most common form of examining public debt.

A country’s debt is measured as a percentage of the size of its economy, also known as GDP. The countries with the highest debt-to-GDP ratios have a figure that exceeds their GDP. This means that their public debt is greater than their GDP for that year.

These are the top 20 countries with the highest national debt as of July 2023. Note the list does not include Venezuela, which has one of the highest debts in the world, due to the unreliability of government data.

In Latin America, what countries have the highest debt as a percentage of GDP in 2023? (The list includes Venezuela despite questions about the reliability of its data — the World Bank estimates the real figure is closer to 200%.) Here’s the complete list.

 

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